A Better Gym Selfie

I have so many conflicting feelings about gym selfies. I usually just sort of frown at them, shake my head, and move on. They’re the kind of thing that other people do, and while I totally respect their right to do it, I just don’t understand why. This came to a head this morning when, after I came home from the gym, I looked on Twitter and saw a gym selfie a woman had tweeted. She was draped casually over the bar of a Smith machine, and the caption was “It’s a lifestyle, really.”

Like, unironically.

That drives me nuts for a few reasons, first of all that there’s this super low-key condescension there: “I’ve committed myself to this lifestyle, and so many other people haven’t.” But the big thing for me was like — OK, fine, brag about your fitness. But she’s at a GD’ed Smith machine — the machine that’s like a squat rack with resistance cords. At my gym, no one uses the Smith machine unless they’re doing lunges or unassisted bench presses, or practicing form, because half of the point of free barbell training is to engage almost your whole body to perform the movement. For example, when you squat with a free, weighted barbell, you’re exercising your legs, but you’re also exercising your core, because beyond just powering the weight up and down, you have to keep the weighted bar balanced on your body. Smith machines take away half of the benefit of performing those exercises, because you don’t have to balance the bar at all — it’s guaranteed to stay level. I don’t doubt that this woman is very happy with her lifestyle, and I admittedly don’t know what her circumstances are, but man, I don’t think I’d be able to bring myself to brag about my fitness while standing next to one of the least challenging pieces of equipment in the gym.

That’s the thing — I’ve done a lot of research about fitness. I’m always happy to change my routine or my form if it’s going to be better for building my strength. I spend at least 10 hours a week walking to and from the gym, working out, and stretching, and I’m willing to do that because it’s one of the few unreservedly fun things I do during my week. And I’ve got plenty to brag about: Within a month or so, I’ll be squatting my own weight. I’m progressing really fast with my overhead presses. I just found out that I have freakishly high grip strength, which means that some of my old injuries in my forearms have just about healed. I ran a frickin’ marathon. But if I’m going to be honest with myself, and I have to be in order to stay healthy, I also have to acknowledge the things that haven’t gone so well: My gains on my deadlifts have stayed frustratingly low because I have a back injury I have to work around. I haven’t lost any body fat all year. I have a necrotized toe joint from marathon training that won’t heal until at least January, and it’s keeping me from doing cardio.

So to me, it all kind of evens out. Fitness is not an unconditionally positive thing. Beyond the fact that it’s physically painful and challenging, it’s also dangerous. It can make you sick — about two-thirds of the way through marathon training, for example, my immune system got really weak from the stress I was putting on it specifically and my body in general. And I’ve gotten more fitness-related injuries this year than I ever have in my life. I’d really like to avoid that, going forward, so after the marathon I scaled back tremendously on the demands I was making of my body for the sake of its fitness.

And if it all evens out, I don’t see a reason to brag, not even to encourage myself or other people to get to the gym, which, again, is something I love doing and consider extremely fun. I’d rather not post a picture of myself in the gym. What does that prove, anyway — that I was at the gym? It doesn’t say “I’m so proud of myself, I just squatted a personal record,” or “My average mile running time has improved by 2 minutes now that I’ve got my form down!”

“Hooray, my toe has almost healed, soon I can get back to running and I’m excited to go back to IT!” or “I’m so happy to be a member at a gym that’s full of nice people!” Those are the reasons I go. Those are the reasons I want other people to go — not because it’s a better lifestyle than anyone else’s, not because I may (or may not, I don’t know) look better than I did a year ago, but because it’s a good community, and as with any hobby, the more you do it, the better you get, and the more pride you have in yourself.

That being said, I guess if the strength of your body is the result of that practice, it makes sense to post a selfie. After all, I love watching Amelia get better and better at weaving, and I watch that by paying attention to the pictures she posts of her weavings on Instagram. I’d just rather see selfies that aren’t taken in a mirror — I’d rather see selfies that are taken by someone else while you’re midway through squatting, ugly face and all. I’d rather see selfies of you with the awesome gym staff who trade stories with you about running, or with your coach who’s helping you build your clean, or with the nice guy who’s always there at the same time as you and helps you rack your weights, or the other dedicated ladies and gentlemen who lift or do kettlebells or go to Muay Thai every Thursday or box or spin or whatever it is you do. That’s what the fitness lifestyle is really like, anyway.

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